Beating well-balanced New Zealand at home is India’s biggest challenge: Virat Kohli
MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli will have their task cut out in New Zealand. © AFP

Building on the confidence and momentum gained from the 2-1 ODI series win over Australia last week is what India captain Virat Kohli expects his team to do in New Zealand, where they face the Blackcaps in a five-match series that will determine to ends up at second place in the ICC rankings.

Eight ratings points currently separate second-ranked India from New Zealand at third, and while Kane Williamson‘s home team will need to blank India 5-0 to move up a spot behind England at No 1, Kohli is acutely aware of the challenge posed by a team he termed as “one of the strongest” in their own conditions. (ALSO READ: Virat Kohli named captain of ICC’s Test and ODI teams of 2018)

“The fact that they are the No 3 ranked team in the world speaks about their consistency over the last couple of years,” Kohli told reporters at McLean Park on Tuesday. “We played them in 2016 and got beaten in Mumbai and all the games were competitive. We felt like they had a really good balance, a great mix of experience and youth. The bowling attack is experience [and] at the same time they’re not that old. Tim [Southee], Trent [Boult] … all these guys are experienced but they have that energy and buzz around them all the time, and they play their cricket in the right way. That’s something we always appreciate about the New Zealand cricket team. In terms of the whole balance of the side, I think they are one of the most balanced teams in world cricket and that’s going to be the biggest challenge for us.” (ALSO READ: On-song New Zealand pose threat to India)

Smaller grounds, a better bowling attack and far stronger batsmen in Williamson and Ross Taylor, not to mention the likes of Martin Guptill, Henry Nicholls and Tom Latham, are also what Kohli felt pose a threat to his team. Recalling the tour of New Zealand in 2014, when India were beaten 0-4 in the ODIs, Kohli felt that the growth of the current side as a batting group – Kohli is ranked No 1 in ODIs, his deputy Rohit Sharma is second and Shikhar Dhawan is ninth – puts them at a much better advantage that five years ago.

“We’ve seen a lot of things happen in the last series we played here, what were the patterns and what were the areas … guys were looking at getting us out, we probably weren’t that experienced a side back then in terms of the whole batting group batting together,” said Kohli. “But if you see the last three years or so, we have really evolved as a batting group and we’re more sure and confident about our abilities and definitely ready to counter all of the things that will be thrown at us. Having said that, New Zealand always has fields which male the games high-scoring, so the key is not to panic too much in the field when you see 300 being posted regularly.

“You just have to back yourselves as a batting group to get those runs or maybe set a big target, which I think the last time when we played here we probably didn’t have that composure to be relaxed in the field in terms of chasing 300-plus. They [New Zealand] know their conditions pretty well. They’re one of the strongest sides at home and very difficult to beat, but we take that as a challenge and we’re definitely looking forward to doing what we did in Australia – playing good cricket and believing in our abilities and just giving balanced performances every time we step onto the field.”

In terms of how the Indian batsmen will need to address scoring options on New Zealand’s smaller grounds, Kohli felt that the key will be knowing where to attack, but for him the bowlers have a bigger challenge.

“You have to be aware of the square boundaries, which are usually very short in most of the grounds, so targeting the right areas becomes very important,” he said. “I think the bowlers require more composure here in terms of what shots you want the batsmen to play, so you have the best chance of getting them out or restricting boundaries. Playing in New Zealand, unless the wickets are really green and the new ball is doing a lot, it is always a place where the bowlers have to figure out what are the areas where they can contain boundaries and force batsmen to hit, so that they can get them out. The team that does that well usually ends up winning in a place like New Zealand purely because of the dimensions of the field.”

The first ODI between India and New Zealand is at McLean Park on Wednesday.